More Talk about Hydrogen

March 10, 2020

More and more talk about Hydrogen as an energy storage medium.

Mark Jacobson has long identified H2 as potential answer for aircraft and shipping. The downside is loss of efficiency in electrolyzing H2O – then having to convert again to get useful energy for whatever. But as renewables proliferate, prices drop, and demand for storage and molecular fuels grows, obviously some key players are interested.

Bloomberg:

Germany will include only the greenest sources of hydrogen in a package of incentives designed to build up the fuel as a low-carbon source of energy, according to a draft government strategy document.

The move, if endorsed by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet, would be a blow to natural gas producers, which increasingly see hydrogen as part of the way they can adapt to tightening rules on greenhouse gas emissions.

Hydrogen burns without producing carbon dioxide and has the energy to provide temperatures of 1,000 degrees Celsius or more needed by steel makers and oil refiners. Yet much of the fuel currently is derived from natural gas, throwing off carbon emissions in the process. Germany wants to focus its support on green hydrogen, where the gas is made with electricity from renewables.

“From the federal government’s point of view, only hydrogen that is produced on the basis of renewable energies is sustainable in the long term,” according to the draft government document seen by Bloomberg News. “It is therefore the goal of the federal government to use green hydrogen and to support a rapid market ramp-up and to establish corresponding value chains.”

Germany will include only the greenest sources of hydrogen in a package of incentives designed to build up the fuel as a low-carbon source of energy, according to a draft government strategy document.

The move, if endorsed by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet, would be a blow to natural gas producers, which increasingly see hydrogen as part of the way they can adapt to tightening rules on greenhouse gas emissions.

Hydrogen burns without producing carbon dioxide and has the energy to provide temperatures of 1,000 degrees Celsius or more needed by steel makers and oil refiners. Yet much of the fuel currently is derived from natural gas, throwing off carbon emissions in the process. Germany wants to focus its support on green hydrogen, where the gas is made with electricity from renewables.

“From the federal government’s point of view, only hydrogen that is produced on the basis of renewable energies is sustainable in the long term,” according to the draft government document seen by Bloomberg News. “It is therefore the goal of the federal government to use green hydrogen and to support a rapid market ramp-up and to establish corresponding value chains.”

“It is disturbing that the government wants to slash any ideas of technology openness,” said Timm Kehler, chairman at the gas industry lobby group Zukunft Erdgas. “It will limit Germany’s production capacity of CO2-neutral hydrogen and eliminate the country’s own industry from the game.”

“It is disturbing that the government wants to slash any ideas of technology openness,” said Timm Kehler, chairman at the gas industry lobby group Zukunft Erdgas. “It will limit Germany’s production capacity of CO2-neutral hydrogen and eliminate the country’s own industry from the game.”

Economy and Energy Ministry spokesperson said the ministry doesn’t comment on drafts that are still in preparation. The document is due to be discussed by Merkel’s Cabinet on March 18.

An earlier draft of the strategy that circulated in January included stimulus for hydrogen produced from fossil fuels — so long as those are coupled with solutions to eliminate emissions from the production process. An example is so-called blue hydrogen, which is conventionally produced from natural gas coupled with carbon capture and storage. Another is “turquoise” hydrogen, made from natural gas with pyrolysis and permanent storage or binding of carbon.

PV Magazine:

Japanese conglomerate Toshiba Corporation has announced its Fukushima Hydrogen Energy Research Field (FH2R) project, on which construction began in July 2018, is operational.

The solar-powered 10 MW hydrogen plant in Namie town, Fukushima prefecture, is said to be able to produce 1,200 normal cubic meters (Nm3) of hydrogen per hour.

The intermittent nature of solar generation prompted Toshiba to design the facility to be able to adjust to supply and demand in the grid, the company said.

“Hydrogen produced at FH2R will also be used to power stationary hydrogen fuel cell systems and to provide for … mobility devices, fuel-cell cars and buses and more,” Toshiba added. “The most important challenge in the current stage of testing is to use the hydrogen energy management system to achieve the optimal combination of production and storage of hydrogen and power grid supply-demand balancing adjustments without the use of storage batteries.”

Solar power

The plant is being powered by 20 MW of solar generation capacity as well as grid power. The hydrogen generated is being transported in trailers and hydrogen bundles to users elsewhere in the prefecture as well as the Tokyo metropolitan area and other regions.

In early January, Toshiba commissioned the H2One Station Unit, an energy storage system producing hydrogen at the Toyama City Environment Center in Toyama prefecture. According to the company, that kind of installation can be deployed easily and operated by customers such as factories, harbors, airports and bus depots. A similar facility was deployed at the end of December in Tsuruga City, in the Hokuriku region.

Patrick Molloy and LeeAnn Baronett for Rocky Mountain Institute:

There are four major sources for commercial production of hydrogen, three of which require fossil fuels: steam methane reformation (SMR), oxidation, and gasification. The fourth source is electrolysis, which separates water into its constituent elements (hydrogen and oxygen) using electricity. When that electricity is produced through renewable resources you can have zero carbon green hydrogen. This is the only non-fossil fuel means of hydrogen production. The SMR process, which emits CO2, requires substantial heat to chemically separate the hydrogen from the methane molecules. When the emissions of that process are not captured, it is referred to as grey hydrogen. When carbon capture and storage (or carbon capture, utilization, and storage) is attached to a facility, it is referred to as blue hydrogen. In addition to SMR, hydrogen can also be synthesized from oil via partial oxidation, or from coal via gasification.

CO2 emitted as a byproduct of SMR hydrogen production accounts for approximately 6 percent of GHG emissions from petroleum refineries in the United States, and up to 25 percent of the GHG emissions from an individual refinery. By source, hydrogen via natural gas accounts for 48 percent of global production, while oil-based production accounts for approximately 30 percent, and coal accounts for 18 percent. Green hydrogen, produced through the electrolysis process using renewable energy, currently accounts for only 4 percent of global production.

The vast majority of hydrogen production today falls into the category of grey hydrogen, as current production relies on fossil fuels and separates the hydrogen and carbon elements. Carbon capture technologies can reduce the carbon emissions by 71–92 percent but the technology is still in a relatively nascent stage. There are also concerns around the storage space necessary for captured carbon. The current movement is toward scaling green hydrogen development and moving away from SMR-based hydrogen. This transition has the benefit of adding demand for a more rapid renewable energy rollout in some of the better renewable energy regions across the United States.

Over the past several years, we have seen a growing focus on the need to support the development of the renewables sector through the sustainable extraction of copper, lithium, aluminum, cobalt, nickel, and other minerals. These are critical minerals in the development of everything from transmission and distribution wiring to solar panels, wind turbines, and battery storage. To entirely decarbonize them requires a focus on extractive activities, the transportation of materials, and mineral processing and purification. Hydrogen can play a dynamic role in this effort in many applications. For example, it can be used to provide a scalable resource to power on-site haul trucks or provide resilient power generation for mine processes, either from fuel cells or through turbines. Hydrogen can also be used as part of the heating process through either combustion or by use of high-heat-emitting fuel cells. In mineral processing, hydrogen can replace coking coal in the steelmaking process to reduce iron ore. It can also run on curtailed renewable energy; building an electrolyzer attached to a renewable generation and battery combination can give you greater capacity to capture peak generation and shift it to peak consumption hours. The conversion of curtailed power into hydrogen at certain times during the day offers the prospect of either using the hydrogen later to provide a callable power resource, or using existing natural gas infrastructure as a means of getting more renewable energy to end users.

This is a menu of options rather than a decisive position as differing market conditions, access, or end users will change the potential solutions that hydrogen can provide in renewable energy development. These additional options help reinforce the need for large-scale renewable rollout and provide an additional strand by which renewables can reach end users.

Hard-to-abate industry sectors constitute 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. These sectors need a comprehensive approach to decarbonization and they need it now. They need electrification but they also need clean molecular energy. These are not mutually exclusive efforts but can, when structured correctly, work in coordination to facilitate the rapid change that is called for. The pathway to scaling up green hydrogen will require substantial buildout of our renewable energy resources across the globe and the understanding that there are still battles to be fought to meet these targets.

The ETC’s Mission Possible report, Shell’s Sky Scenario, and  the International Energy Association’s below 2 degrees Celsius scenario all show well-developed pathways to decarbonizing the hard-to-abate sectors, and those pathways all require substantial global hydrogen growth. Whether it is in trucking with Nikola’s recent launch, or in industrial process innovations like green aluminum or green steel, there is one thing that nearly all major energy mix studies have shown: we will need more hydrogen in our energy mix to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees.

11 Responses to “More Talk about Hydrogen”

  1. Keith McClary Says:

    “Now, engineers in Alberta believe they could have an answer — a method capable of extracting hydrogen from underground resources like oilsands deposits while leaving the carbon emissions it produces below the surface. ”
    https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/alberta-hydrogen-innovation-1.5290297

    What colour hydrogen is that?

    • grindupbaker Says:

      No issue except freight train derailments with cars of green hydrogen & chlorine. Issue for firefighters.

    • gmrmt Says:

      Invisible as they haven’t released any scientific papers on their process. Announcement of a technology is not demonstration of that technology. I dearly wish this to be true as it gives hope for some kind of energy economy for the prairie provinces. The tarsands are quickly headed for a major downturn.

  2. Gingerbaker Says:

    “Mark Jacobson has long identified H2 as potential answer for aircraft and shipping. The downside is loss of efficiency in electrolyzing H2O – then having to convert again to get useful energy for whatever. ”

    This is now a truly stupid argument. First of all, production of hydrogen via electrolysis is supposed to be from * excess* electricity from renewables..

    Secondly, the efficiency of electrolysis-derived hydrogen is now over 90% – even higher with cogeneration.

    Thirdly, the efficiency of RE is relatively meaningless. We are tapping virtually infinite resources of sun and wind and water influenced by gravity. Efficiency of these various systems is way less important to their longevity as far what it actually costs us to use them. Since RE has a low cost, it’s energy is essentially free, over the long run, and so its efficiency matters little.

    • grindupbaker Says:

      Yes, except only for the land footprint. Everything needs space.

      • mboli Says:

        The land footprint of GHG-emitting power is the whole darn planet.

        • grindupbaker Says:

          That’s actually something I’ve found interesting (never raised any interest/thought in GoogleTubes though) because I presumably have the fixation with mathematics / calculation thing. So if humans had built coal-fired electricity generating plants over all land surface except ice sheets, mountains & major deserts with 16 km spacing (every 16 x 16 km grid on Earth land except ice sheets, mountains & major deserts has a 1-Gw coal-fired electricity generating plant in the middle) than that would generate ~400,000 gigawatts which is the heating of Earth averaged over any 12 months of ENSO-neutral or small El Nino or small La Nina “last few years” & “next few years”. Reason it don’t change much is surface/air warms to hold a balance in the ~400,000 gigawatts range (just approx. of course) last 22 years so it hangs around that heating rate (the ocean mix rate controls it). So in that 1 coal plant per 16 x 16 km grid on Earth land way “The land footprint of GHG-emitting power is the whole darn planet”.

    • Canman Says:

      “Secondly, the efficiency of electrolysis-derived hydrogen is now over 90% – even higher with cogeneration.”

      Got a source for that?

  3. doldrom Says:

    There will always be significant over capacity in generating, it’s impossible to deal with daily and seasonal peaks otherwise. Putting the overcapacity into hydrogen makes a lot more sense than the current practice of squandering it, since you cannot turn coal and nuclear plants on and off all the time.

  4. Gingerbaker Says:

    “Yes, except only for the land footprint. Everything needs space.”

    We could fit a brand new 100% RE system inside of the territory currently used by fossil fuel infrastructure alone.

    Space we got in spades.


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